Saturday, 21 February 2009

Portfolios for Africa

The New Zealand government has ministries in the following areas
  1. Accident Compensation
  2. Agriculture
  3. Archives New Zealand*
  4. Arts, Culture and Heritage
  5. Biosecurity*
  6. Broadcasting
  7. Building and Construction*
  8. Civil Defence*
  9. Climate Change Issues
  10. Commerce*
  11. Communications and Information Technology
  12. Community and Voluntary Sector
  13. Conservation*
  14. Consumer Affairs*
  15. Corrections*
  16. Courts*
  17. Customs*
  18. Defence*
  19. Disability Issues
  20. Disarmament and Arms Control
  21. Economic Development
  22. Education*
  23. Education Review Office
  24. Energy and Resources
  25. Environment
  26. Ethnic Affairs
  27. Finance*
  28. Fisheries
  29. Food Safety*
  30. Foreign Affairs*
  31. Forestry
  32. Health*
  33. Housing
  34. Immigration*
  35. Infrastructure*
  36. Internal Affairs*
  37. Justice*
  38. Labour*
  39. Land Information*
  40. Law Commission
  41. Local Government*
  42. Maori Affairs
  43. National Library
  44. Pacific Island Affairs
  45. Police*
  46. Racing
  47. Regulatory Reform*
  48. Research, Science and Technology
  49. Revenue*
  50. Rugby World Cup
  51. Senior Citizens
  52. Small Business
  53. Social Development and Employment
  54. Sport and Recreation
  55. State Owned Enterprises*
  56. State Services
  57. Statistics*
  58. Tertiary Education
  59. Tourism
  60. Trade*
  61. Transport*
  62. Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations*
  63. Veterans’ Affairs
  64. Women’s Affairs
  65. Youth Affairs
As well as Ministers responsible for the following services
  1. New Zealand Security Intelligence Service*
  2. Government Communications Security Bureau*
I have placed an asterisk next to the areas that I think it reasonable for the government to assign ministry oversight. The number I have marked is large, but nearly so as the 67 there are! However I have caveats to my selections.

Several of them could be combined. Commercial disputes can be under a single umbrella; eg. Consumer Affairs, Building and Construction, Commerce. National Library and Archives. The Courts could possibly be combined with Corrections, though stay separated from Policing.

Some could be much smaller in scope. Health could be oversight of individual health funds and insurances with a review of fund managers/ insurance providers if necessary. Monitoring health workers could continue. But the provision and funding of health could be completely privatised.

Education could be privatised with government monitoring funding via a voucher system for school or home school options. Overview of education minimised to gross dereliction of duty.

Some Infrastructure and Transport may require oversight but tolling for revenue should be maximised.

Regulatory Reform is necessary to remove a lot of previous red tape!

Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations is required because it is a treaty. Though finalising of restitution should be sort. I don't think a separate portfolio for Maori is probably necessary but may (or may not) be sensible while the Maori seats continue.

Overall I think the government is trying to take far too much responsibility for things that it need not and often times should not concern itself with.

Which of the above areas do you think the government should or should not concern itself with? Are there some areas it should that are not currently being covered?

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Charity police

Jugulum makes an interesting observation. I have noticed this but I wonder if it is predominantly confined to Christian blogs. Blogmasters vary in what they expect of commenters; some blogs are freer in the range of tone, though curt language tends to be less tolerated from newbies and will likely result in a response in kind. Others expect more courtesy and will remove offence or ban offenders. What is amusing are commenters whose sensitivity buttons are grossly oversized. They expect kind language but are harsh in enforcing it. Jugulum notes,
If you read many blogs on the internet, you will find people who speak very uncharitably–they’re constantly unnecessarily harsh in tone and unreasonable in how they interpret others. You will also find people who are obsessed with accusing others of being uncharitable. You can call them charity police. And those guys can be some of the least charitable people around–accusing others of uncharity at the drop of a hat or the slightest hint of language that isn’t excessively polite. Majorly unreasonable & oversensitive.
This often true. Most of the problem with charity police resides in their own personalities.

I will add that exacerbating the problem is that text communication is intrinsically blunt. Thus one finds his comments less blunt due to the fact he is writing what he is thinking and others' comments more blunt because he is reading what they are writing. One should reread what he has written to get an idea of tone. Always assume the tone is slightly harsher than it reads. If you think someone will find your comment a little blunt and you don't know how to tone in down, consider using (as much as I am not particular fan of them) emoticons.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Does the Bible reflect modern science?

I was hoping to discuss some ideas about ancient cosmology at some stage. In the meantime Greg has raised the more fundamental issue of presuppositions and modern evangelicals. My initial response is below though some items may need clarification.

Greg: ...you seem to be concerned with the idea that the Bible has to reflect our current understanding of the world in order for it's inerrency and infallibility to be upheld.

Well actually my view of Scripture means that I reject a lot of current popular theory. While I accept the world is spherical, I reject Darwinism which is by far the most popular understanding in modern science concerning the origin and development of the biosphere.

Your bias is constrained to a specific view of inerrency. He may prefer another, but each one tips either of you in a particular direction and to a particular interpretation that satisfies the requirements of that inerrency.

I presume "he" in this sentence refers to Gier. I am aware of different views. See here for inerrancy and infallibility. I also have a pastor who is neither a inerrantist nor a creationist whom I sit under quite happily. While I think that some passages appear difficult with an inerrant approach, I think that their resolution leads to deeper understanding of the way of God. This has occurred enough for me that initially contradictory passages do not send me reeling each time I come across one. I tend to look deeper into the context and some inferences turn out to not exist. We can read more into a passage than is often there.

More importantly, I think Scripture points to an inerrantist approach. See my comments on Jesus' interaction with the Sadducees.

An aside, be careful how you use the term inerrancy, it has a meaning. If you propose another meaning preferably use a different word. Even the word "infallibility" seems to imply inerrancy however it has a theological definition that specifies inerrant doctrine which potentially allows for error of fact.

This concerns me because I see an initiative to interpret passages in a certain way that conforms it to modern science,

The idea that anyone before Bacon really understood science quite the way we do is questionable. I think you are better to talk about the worldviews of then and now. Even Gier uses the term pre-scientific which is better though can still be misleading. I am more concerned about having a biblical worldview than a Western one. While the current Western worldview gets much wrong, it is important to realise that the Western worldview developed from Christianity—likely with some added Greek philosophy (to its detriment I think). Because of this the Western worldview is very Christian unlike many other cultures including pre-Christian Europe and Briton.

You will need to give examples of specific passages.

when an interpretation that draws from the science of their day explains it much better.

Except is the interpretation drawing from their day? Much of what I see is a later construct of what the ancients supposedly thought based on a hyperliteralist interpretation of ancient literature.

I see this a lot in the church, and once again, if I am wrong about you, I apologize.

You may be correct about me, though I give my views considered thought.

A modern person who wishes to explain scripture in light of modern science has the burden of proof upon them first.

Why? If Scripture is consistent with modern science why insist on a different interpretation just to make it inconsistent?

They need to show how an ancient person could have known what we know,

This assumes an anti-supernatural bias. If God created the universe he is more knowledgeable about its intricacies than every scientist combined. God can reveal material that happens to be factually correct, even if simplified. I am not stating that this has to be the case, rather pointing out the bias which insists on human authorship sans divine authorship. Scripture suggests both human and divine. Peter adds that prophets did not always understand everything about their message (1 Peter 1). I am not suggesting that the message of the prophets was differential mathematics and quantum physics, just the importance of divine authorship.

what benefit it provided the ancients,

It may not offer a benefit, it may just be an accurate report.

why God would only make it truly relevant to moderns in the West,

Examples such as?

and why the church missed these interpretations all this time and had to wait until the 20th century before science could shed light on things.

The church didn't. My previous post on the flat earth mentioned that theologians in general did not teach a flat earth. Several appealed to Scripture to "prove" geocentricism. The fact they could only do so by appealing to poetical passages should have been a concern. Both hyperliteralism (including the Jews) and over-allegorising have been practised in interpretation, but that does not deny that Scripture can be understood. Moderns possibly do this less than some previous generations. Though there is a trend to turn historical narrative into symbolic language.

This comment also seems to contradict your earlier comment,
Going forward we as Christians must always be willing to follow where God's Word leads us and not be afraid to discard tradition if a new understanding can fit the picture better. Many doctrines, or the expression and depth of understanding concerning them, have developed, been lost and found again numerous times throughout our history. There is always the possibility old understandings will crumble in the face of new discoveries.
While I agree with discarding tradition, I am cautious about new interpretations. They may exist but one would want very good evidence.

On a slightly tangential but important note—and this does not apply to the shape of the earth—part of my concern is how little people understand the types of science. Operational and historical science are quite different and a reasonable argument can be made that the latter is not strictly science. Historical science is a claim about history. It is a claim that can be refuted by eyewitness testimony.

For example scientific examination of Jericho cannot "prove" Joshua did not raze it. Both are claims in the same realm: historical truth. One is just playing a contemporary witness off against a non-contemporary interpreter. Either the first is a liar or the latter is mistaken in his interpretation of his findings.

Presuppositions are important. I think there is good reason to hold to inerrancy based on how Jesus and the apostles viewed Scripture. I think the Bible is historical and that it is correct when it makes historical claims. I think it important to understand what the author intended and the cultural situation into which he spoke. I disagree (in general) with hyperliteralism, but I think the bigger problem in this age is the priority of secular theory and hence unwarranted claims of symbolism, the explosion of interpretations, the invention of hermeneutic principles, the cherry picking of Scripture, the holding of contradictory ideas and anything else that lets us hold on to our favourite ideas; be that psychological, biological, sociological, political or any other theory which we cherish.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Random quote

Trying to thwart powerful interests by creating more power elsewhere has a very unfortunate history.

Carl V Phillips

Friday, 6 February 2009

What standards should the government concern itself with?

In a previous post I identified 3 principles from Amos that merchants should take note of when trading. They were:
  1. Accurate labelling
  2. Clear agreed price
  3. Not passing off refuse for merchandise
One could argue that the third is a variation on the first.

How can we apply this to our current culture? Let's consider how salesmen may abuse these principles in the West.

Inaccurate labelling

This is difficult to do because of current law but examples could include:
  • Jimmied scales
  • Misquoting house or land area

Unclear agreed price

This is also difficult to do because our money does not have intrinsic value. Ignoring the prudence, or lack thereof, of this policy, this means that the value of cash in a single transaction is not usually disputed. There are however several actions which I think abuse the principle of agreed price. These are when there is an added cost that is not immediately apparent such as:
  • Additional transaction costs
  • Excluding sales tax
  • Postage and packaging, especially when the item cannot be purchased without paying this and when the amount does not correspond to the true cost

Refuse for merchandise

I think there are several examples of these that currently occur
  • Cars involved in previous undisclosed accidents
  • Functionless fuel additives
  • Liquid in food
  • Air in food
  • Sick livestock

Including these principles in law

Many of these issues can be avoided thru enforced labelling. This gives people relevant information on a product. It is hard for an individual to consider every product. This is why a Ministry of Standards is useful, they can research such things. The important thing is that people get what is agreed to. These are my introductory thoughts.
Foodstuffs
All food should be sold subject to weight or volume. Foods that are solid at room temperature should have weight included. Liquids at room temperature should be volumes. One could consider the addition of weight or volume based on the temperature sold at, so for some items both weight and volume would be required, i.e. frozen liquids.

All food labels should include a moisture content and air content (if relevant). If water is added it should be listed as an ingredient. Note that there may be nothing wrong with including water and air in food. Air makes for texture in ice cream and other desserts. Adequate labelling, such as selling ice cream by weight in preference to volume discourages abuse of this process.

Energy and macroingredients (fat, protein, carbohydrates, moisture) should be included on all labels. I am not certain if ingredient lists should be mandatory by law but as a consumer this is my personal preference.
Machinery and electronics
Objects should be assessed for relevant function. The attributes that contribute significantly to this function should be mandatory for labelling and an independent definitions should be used.

Objects that are not fully functional without additional items or purchases need to be clearly labelled.

It seems somewhat reasonable to specify expected lifetime of the equipment under normal use. It would be difficult for this to be enforced for individual items but appropriate for state prosecution if the majority of items fail prior to the specified lifetime.
Medications
Strength and range of strengths for individual doses should be noted. Example 50 mg (48–54 mg). Non-existent accuracy should not be implied by several significant figures for dosing. Side effects (absolute greater than placebo) should be documented to a set frequency, eg. 1%. Though serious events may need to be documented to a lower frequency.

Claims of benefit with no comparative studies can be made but mention of this should be required. Example: May aid sleep, no controlled studies comparing to placebo available.

What constitutes a medication versus a supplement and who should be allowed to prescribe presents a much larger question and probably fits the domain of a broad Medicine Act rather than a Standards Act.
Second hand items
This will depend on the item but a list of relevant disclosures could be mandatory. This is currently the case in this country with vehicles, probably because of their cost and previous abuses.
Pricing
All costs must be disclosed on saleable item. Quoting price with a disclaimer mentioning exclusions of unspecified costs should be forbidden. Granted sales tax goes to government and not to the business, but the customer still has to pay this figure. Quoting full price with the disclaimer "includes a sales tax of $x" is acceptable.

Exceptions may exist for international transactions where sales tax and postage will depend on the customers destination, though this could be easily addressed.

Caution

As mentioned in previous posts, this is about information the consumer needs to make an appropriate decision, it is not about setting what the minimum standard should be. One can insist that paper is labelled by the density (mass per square meter) without specifying what density paper should be sold at.

I also think that in general enforcement should be at the level of government rather than individual. Individuals fighting corporations in the courts are usually at a disadvantage. Individuals can choose to argue their case thru the courts if they wish, but bringing the matter to a regulatory body should be sufficient. It is too time consuming for an individual to fight over a few dollars, but worthwhile for a company. Because such episodes are unlikely to be isolated, a regulatory body would have powers to enforce appropriate action (relabelling products) and an appropriate fine if necessary.

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